I have worked in the East Village for much of my adult life. My first job was as a parking lot attendant in the lot that used to be across the street from the Central Library. It was a great job for a student but it also offered a great opportunity to observe the life of this community (I stared more that I studied). I was blown away by the built heritage of the area as well. Buildings came down and went up with amazing speed but there always remained those hidden gems, like St. Francis Church, tucked in between the tall towers, like the old hotels, the Cecil, the Louis, the Regis and York and the beautiful old Eddy. The Convention Centre had not been built so all those old buildings that lined 8th Avenue were still standing. And I loved them all because each of them had a story to tell, a line to contribute to the story of what is now the East Village.
I want to tell the story of one such building and include some of the stories of the structures that went before. The building sits unobtrusively across the street from The Cecil Hotel. It is a warehouse building, dating from about 1956 and it has been home to at least two restaurants and a number of other important Calgary businesses. 316 3rd Street SE is little harder to get to now. The flyover has cut it off from the rest of the East Village and road improvements have turned a once through road into a cul-de-sac, but at one time, this area was the hub of Calgary’s mercantile district.
Early in the century, this was a street like any other. There were two houses at 312 and 314 in 1910. By 1912, however, the area at 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street East was the site of a bustling new public market. The idea of a public market was not new in the city of Calgary. There had been a place for farmers to sell their products as early as 1885 when a bylaw was enacted to establish a public market and weigh scales. First set up on Drinkwater Street (2nd Street E), near the town hall, it moved to Atlantic Avenue (9th) in 1887. The Public Market that was established on the site of what is now Booker’s was conceived by the Women’s Consumers’ League which was founded in response to rising food prices and the ensuing financial pressures. Annie Gale, who would later become the city’s first female council member, was one of the most vocal members of the group. She was appalled at the cost of produce that, in her opinion, was fit only for cattle feed. So in 1912, a market was established at the corner of 4th Avenue and 4th Street E.Calgary Public Market, Postcards from the Past, PC 1375, Calgary Public Library
In 1914, a building was built to house the market and by 1915 it had been made a public utility supported by taxes in addition to revenue generated by sales. All available space was taken, even after an addition was built shortly after the building was completed. It was a very popular idea and Women’s Consumers’ League worked hard to keep it successful. But for Mrs. Gale, that was not enough. Her idea was that the city would participate directly in the marketplace. To this end, the city had a stall from which it sold produce, which had been purchased directly from the producer, at reduced rates. She even suggested the city purchase its own dairy herd to provide milk. Her ideas were not popular with local merchants and the politicians whom they supported so after Mrs. Gale resigned her position as Market Advisor, the Public Market was allowed to languish. By 1925 it was no longer listed as a public utility in the Municipal Manual.
The site continued to be used as a marketplace and a quick scan of the Henderson’s City Directories shows a number of businesses operating from the old market building over the years. Sam Sheinin, who had been manager of the Public Market, purchased the site in 1946. From there he operated a number of his own businesses such as Sheinin’s Live and Dressed Poultry, Calgary Cold Storage and Home-Del Food Products. Hook Signs had a shop next door at 320 3rd St. SE. Sam operated his business out of the old market building until it was razed by fire on Christmas Eve, 1954.
The blaze that leveled the building was a four-alarm fire, according to accounts in the papers. When the tanks of ammonia in the refrigeration units exploded, two firemen were thrown 15 feet but were not seriously injured. Losses were estimated at $400,000 but, much to the relief of customers who had meat in storage at the plant, firemen recovered most of what was in the freezers, much of it still frozen. Sheinin built a new warehouse on the site in 1956 and it is this building that houses Booker’s today. Sam continued to operate his business from 316 3 St SE until 1959. In 1960 the Alberta Poultry Marketers Co-Operative moved in and stayed there for 10 years.
By 1972, the warehouse had seen the last of the chickens. Starting in 1972, the building would be occupied by another iconic Calgary business. Any woman who lived in this city in the 1970s will remember the Betty Shops. Their purple shopping bags with “Betty Shop” in modern script were ubiquitous in malls across the city. They catered to the average gal, nothing too fancy or too expensive. The warehouse for these shops, which would eventually number 40 throughout western Canada, was at 316 3rd Street SE.
The Betty Shops were founded by Lena Hanen, the daughter of a Rabbi, the wife of a successful business man and the mother of the man who gave us the Plus 15 System. She was trained as a teacher, but gave that up after a year, when she married her husband Samuel. After her marriage she helped in the family dry goods business. In the late 1940s she became the manager of a dress shop and by 1950 she was the owner of her own store, The Betty Shop. Lena was an astute business woman and, by all accounts, a very caring boss. By the time of her death in 1979, she employed nearly 1000 people in forty stores in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
The Hanen’s appear to have kept the warehouse space for the Betty Shop until about 1985 when Kingfisher Fish Market and Café opened. The Kingfisher became famous throughout Canada, partly because of its colourful proprietor, Sandy Cruikshank, known as “The Pirate,” and partly because of the famous speakers he attracted for his “Tuesdays with Webster” lecture series. Jean Chretien mounted the soapbox at the Kingfisher and Tom Axworthy said he would pay his own airfare to Calgary if he could debate the journalist of his choice. Kingfisher was described by Alan Fotheringham as similar in spirit to London’s Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner, high praise indeed from someone who thought Calgary was the spot where the “snakeskin cowboy boot was the elixir of culture.”(Macleans November 3, 1986, p76) The Kingfisher eventually changed hands and was moved by the new owners to the Dragon City Mall. The place became Booker’s BBQ and Crab Shack in July 1999.
If you are interested in the history of building in the East Village or, really, anything to do with the history of the city, please come and visit us in the Community Heritage and Family History collection on the 4th Floor of the Central Library. And check out our website for blog entries on things historical and for our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library, where we have digitized photographs and postcards relating to the history of our beautiful city. You can find us on the web at www.calgarypubliclibrary.com. Click on Blogs to find the Community Heritage and Family History webpage.
(With thanks to City of Calgary Archives)
“A time to drink – and a time to talk” Alan Fotheringham Macleans November 3,1986 p. 76
“ Lena Hanen and the conflicts of leadership in the Twentieth Century” by Eliane Leslau Silverman in Unsettled Pasts: reconceiving the west through women’s history edited by Sarah Carter, Lesley Erickson, Patricia Roome and Char Smith. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005. pp 341-354
“Speakers are not fishy”
Financial Post November 2, 1985 p. 28 accessed December 17, 2009 through ProQuest http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=262144911&sid=3&Fmt=3&cli_entld=58921&RQT=309&VName=PQD